The Thankful Bounty Rice Plate with Cornucopia of Protein Toppings that is the Vietnamese Com Tam. Happy day before Thanksgiving. I'd be out tomorrow so wanted to have something up before. Be lying if I said I had planned for this post to be for today but if you can temporarily replace the belt buckle pilgrim hat with instead maybe a conical Asian farming one just for a short time...
Com Tam meaning broken rice, the story I'm familiar with went something along how the brittle longer grains often broke during transporting and were sold cheaper, thus more accessible to the poorer class. Eventually the unique texture would become popular in its own right. The dish today safe to say hearty, but garnished generously with veggies (some fresh, some pickled) and usually also with a complementary bowl of soup broth, as a meal relatively balanced.
A few vocabulary words pertaining to common toppings for my own sake...
Shrimp paste wrapped in bean curd: Tau Hu Ky
My favorite, and look forward to ones fried light and crispy. Comically I can never seem to remember the word when actually at a restaurant.
Vietnamese steamed/baked egg loaf: Cha Trung
From experience, depending on the ratio of ground pork to eggs the texture varies from meatloaf-esque to dense omelet-esque. Love them all.
Shredded pork and pork skin with toasted rice powder: Bi
Not something I crave per se but personally a great palate cleanser to the party on a plate.
Grilled Marinated Pork: Thit Nuong
Oh nelly, a lightly sweet, fish sauce marinated grilled pork goodness. A few styles.
Grilled Marinated Pork Chops: Suon Nuong
Oh nelly, a bone-in cut of marinated pork otherwise similar in flavor to the Thit Nuong but with serrated knife status. Usually no thicker than 3/8". Wide range of varying quality.
A Fried Egg: Trung Chien
Often a wok fried sunny side up with crispy edges. Why not?
There are many more (various seafood, chicken, etc.) but these the few I often see and end up with. Against my documentative habits I pared down a lot of photos since many started to feel a bit redundant. But anyhow first up is Pho Van off El Cajon Blvd. I used to visit more often for Pho but after a couple incidents with chewy beef toppings they've become more a place for rice dishes for me. The No. 100 would be their full featured Com Tam offering.
Last July when this photo was taken a bummer that the price finally had reached past the seven-dollar bracket at $8.15. I had experienced more generous plating from them as well...
Despite, the egg loaf is thick and dense packed with shredded wood ear fungus and has been one of the highlights for me. Bean curd skin with shrimp paste is crisp and fried light with almost a dipped-in-egg-white outer lightness, though usually conservative on the shrimp paste filling itself. The pork chops I always enjoyed the not too sweet flavor. Were never the most tender but the plate overall pretty above average in quantity and quality. Cost performance wise can say I have had better but definitely far from the rear of the pack.
Pho Van, 4233 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92105
Next is from Pho Convoy. As with Pho Van I haven't had Pho here in a while. Other people seem to have better luck than I but it only takes one watered down experience for me to make it difficult to try to order it again. But I was back for a Com Tam plate as I remembered them looking great.
Here at Pho Convoy, you can get a seven course Com Tam for $10.25 and even an all Seafood five course that include grilled shrimp and mussels for $13.15. If I remember right I got the No. 32 with grilled pork and bean curd shrimp paste (from hereon referred to as BCSP) with additional request for the baked egg ($6.95 + 1.45).
The egg loaf was a bit dry around the edges but itself not bad. BCSP also fair. The grilled marinated pork here is served the lasagna-esque style I sometimes see, thin cuts packed and formed in a rectangular pan. Overall enjoyed my meal here and wouldn't mind visiting again though the prices are also on the high side especially if you happen to want to indulge in more than two toppings.
Pho Convoy, 4647 Convoy St # 101B San Diego, CA 92111
Was a while since I've been to Pho Hiep Grill (Linda Vista). The Com Tam plates here also always seemed very popular so gave them a try one weekend lunch. No. 37 - Shredded pork, egg loaf and grilled marinated pork chop ($6.95).
I have to say this was one of the more colorful and photogenically plated (although I find all attractive in one way or another). The larger pork chop was grilled and marinated well. If you never had Suon Nuong, it's usually a much thinner cut than the Western pork chop some may imagine ranging from as thin as 1/4" up to 3/8". May run into a few that are not the most tender you've had but I like how the thinner cut allows for the marinade to be permeated all the way through the meat and I imagine an additional benefit for faster grilling time - a pro for the hungry impatient.
The Cha Trung was the prettiest I've seen while the Bi was quite Ok as well. Soon enough the nuoc mam would cover the entire plate into a fish sauce induced feeding frenzy. Yum.
Pho Hiep Grill, 6947 Linda Vista Rd, San Diego, CA 92111
Further down my corridor to Vietnamese eats El Cajon Blvd, is Com Tam Thuan Kieu. This place used to be Nhu Y Restaurant which I've visited a few times before the new ownership. You can read about Kirk of mmm-yoso's visits to Thuan Kieu here.
The name sake house special here is the No. 1 (or No. 18, depending on what page you are on the menu) Com Tam (Dac Biet) Thuan Kieu. There is a beautiful pork chop hiding under that fried egg and all this can be yours for Seven-bucks even.
The runny yolk fried egg with crispy edges brought a big smile to my face but the larger BCSP with generous shrimp paste filling was probably what made me the happiest.
The shredded pork skin had the most roasted rice powder that I had experienced, if otherwise not a whole lot of flavor but I usually enjoy Bi as a palate cleanser between other bites. Sorry had to include another shot of the fried egg...
The egg loaf on the other hand was a smaller wedge and just OK, textured more toward omelet than meatloaf. I haven't talked about the complementary soup broth till this point but the version here I didn't enjoy as much. Usually I find the pork based broth spiced and flavored very similar to what you find in your bowl of Pho but this tasted more from one of their other soup noodles dishes. Still all that for the price is hard to beat. I'm liking Thuan Kieu, thank you...
Com Tam Thuan Kieu, 4712 El Cajon Blvd # A, San Diego, CA 92115
One weekend thought I'd give Saigon Restaurant a try. I've had their Pho in the past and while not bad the most memorable part of the meal was maybe its generous portion. I never really had a chance to return to sample other things off their crazy long menu and was glad I did because their Com Tam caught me by total surprise.
If I remember right this was their No. 44 which is the most expensive Com Tam listing at a whopping $7.50. The plated uniquely bulging upward resembled a rugby ball in shape and size. Really not much to complain about except for the minor detail of the flavor of the soup again as with Thuan Kieu.
The BCSP was smaller but with also a good amount of shrimp paste filling. The egg loaf was a nice size while the deep marinated grilled pork chop was the highlight with an additional turmeric/curry seasoning and also pretty tender to boot.
Saigon Restaurant, 4455 El Cajon Blvd, San Diego, CA 92115
Hope you all enjoyed these while wearing loose elastic waistband attire. To offset, before the end of the year I'm planning on another seven day celebration of great Salads to be had here in SD. It'll be another great Salabration! :)